Scrabble's inventor dies still a poor speller

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The Independent Online
A self-confessed failure at his own game, Alfred Butts, the American inventor of Scrabble, has died in Rhinebeck, New York, aged 93.

Only days before his death, Mr Butts admitted that he was not especially skilled at the game. 'I'm a poor speller,' he said. His wife once beat him by scoring 234 points, triumphing with the word 'quixotic'.

Trained as an architect, Mr Butts developed the game during the Depression, eventually coming up with a plywood version in his garage. At first nobody was willing to distribute it commercially and he gave sets to his friends.

Finally in 1949, the rights were bought by an American company, Selchow & Righter, and slowly it began to take off. Its success was assured when the chairman of Macy's department store took a set on holiday and caught the Scrabble bug.

Since then, more than 100 million sets have sold worldwide in many languages and even, for the blind, in a Braille version.

'People are always asking me if I'm rich,' he said in an interview in 1984. How rich nobody yet knows, but he used to receive three cents for every game sold, of which he said he lost one in taxes and gave another to charity. 'The third enabled me to have an enjoyable life,' he said.

The rules determining the number of points earned by using each letter have remained unchanged. Butts drew them up by counting how many times each letter appeared on a front page of the New York Times. On that day at least, x, q and z, always the best letters to have in your hand, clearly appeared only

infrequently.

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